Remember the Poor

Last January, after the massive earthquake in Haiti, we saw round-the-clock coverage and an outpouring of aid for the troubled nation. Haiti has a long, terrible history. The indigenous inhabitants died or fled when the Europeans moved in, and African slaves were taken there to work the plantation colony. It’s a history of oppression, idolatry (European/American avarice, Haitian superstitions) and terrible violence.

So, it came as an enormous shock one day when someone working on the same floor as me at 1 Penn Plaza commented on the news reports, complaining that there was “all this coverage” of people overseas, when “our own people” were losing their homes in California. She was referring to million-dollar mansions that were being lost to mudslides in that state.

Stunned, I muttered, “the history of Haiti and the history of California are considerably different.” She replied loudly, “We should be helping our own people.”

Incredible. How can anyone compare the misery and absolute poverty of Haitians with the loss of an affluent Californian’s home? It’s incomprehensible to me.

There is a more subtle way, though, that we can all fall into a trap of immunizing ourselves to the sorrow of poverty.  We can misquote Jesus, saying, “Well, we’ll always have the poor among us.”

What he really said was, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11 NIV In saying this he was echoing the Old Testament, which says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11 NIV Far from a fatalistic statement of unmovable fact, these words give us a call to action. Jesus was telling his disciples that yes, he was with them then and was doing vitally important work for the world’s salvation, but that of course they’d be helping the poor once he was gone.  The words of Deuteronomy remove all doubt about this, showing us that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who came in the flesh as the carpenter from Nazareth, the God who is forever faithful and who’s character is unchanging, wants us to look after the poor.

A few weeks ago I was given a copy of The Poverty and Justice Bible after participating in a youth conference hosted by the American Bible Society in New York. Although I’m not terribly impressed with the translation (Contemporary English Version), I appreciate the justice and poverty-related devotionals included, along with the roughly 2000 verses highlighted in the Bible that deal with how God views the excluded, marginalized and oppressed of our world. Think about that. More than 2000 verses in the Bible talk about God’s love and concern for the poor, and his wrath against people and systems that keep the weak down.

Clearly, we have a duty to the poor.

This coming November 21 my home church, Central Jersey Church of Christ, will be taking up a special offering for the International Day of Giving. My family won’t be there that day, as I’ll be supply-preaching for the Echo Lake Church of Christ, but I fully support the efforts of HOPE worldwide and other Christian organizations in their work to put into practice the church’s call to serve those on the margins.

Next month a group of Christians will be going down to Honduras for the now-annual “Jesus Banquet,” held in a dump and served to men, women and children who eke out an existence eating or selling for recycling whatever they can find in the trash.  check out this video to get an idea of what this is all about.

With the holiday season upon us, people in the West are thinking more about the needs of others. This is traditional. The call to serve and lift up the poor and disadvantaged is prophetic and belongs to the people of God. What is your church, family, or just you doing to help those in need, nearby and around the world? There’s so much need. We can’t do everything, but we must do something.

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